Gina Haspel Offered to Withdraw C.I.A. Nomination Amid Concerns Over Role in Torture Program

Gina Haspel, the president’s nominee to run the C.I.A., offered to withdraw her nomination ahead of what is expected to be a tough confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

President Trump’s pick to run the C.I.A., Gina Haspel, told White House officials last week that she would withdraw her nomination if they were concerned her role in the brutal interrogation of a Qaeda suspect would scuttle her confirmation and draw the intelligence agency into a fresh controversy over a program it disavowed years ago, according to administration officials and others familiar with the discussions.

Ms. Haspel’s offer on Friday to withdraw her nomination sent administration officials scurrying and a group of top aides, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, headed to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., to prevent Ms. Haspel from dropping out, these people said.

A career veteran of the agency, Ms. Haspel told White House officials that she was worried less about her own reputation than about the potential damage to the C.I.A. from a bruising confirmation battle. The C.I.A. has struggled to put the legacy of its interrogation policies behind the agency.

Ms. Haspel was ultimately convinced not to withdraw her name and is expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. On Sunday afternoon, Ms. Haspel was prepping for the hearing with administration officials.

Early Monday, Mr. Trump said Democrats want Ms. Haspel to withdraw because she “was too tough on Terrorists.”

“Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror,” Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet.

Democrats have said they are concerned with her role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program and her involvement in the destruction of interrogation videotapes. They have not said, as Mr. Trump claims, that she was too tough on terrorists.



Who Is Gina Haspel? Good Spy, Bad Spy

The C.I.A. has been on a campaign defending Gina Haspel, President Trump’s pick to head the agency, but critics have highlighted her role in interrogations using torture and the destruction of tapes documenting them.

Meet Gina, a spy for over 30 years, a devoted public servant and a devotee of Johnny Cash. “She’s dedicated her life to protecting our nation.” Meet Gina, a spy for over 30 years, an overseer of torture, and a destroyer of valuable documents. “She believes that waterboarding should be something that we use.” This is Gina Haspel, the nominee to head the C.I.A. with two distinct storylines about her. A C.I.A. P.R. blitz aimed at bolstering her nomination tells us most of what we know about Haspel. “Gina Haspel is the best prepared person ever to be nominated for this job.” “A nonpartisan person.” “She’s got a spine of steel.” “Her only goal is to live out the agency’s mission.” The C.I.A. tells us that she joined towards the end of the Cold War. She wanted adventure and meaning in her life. We don’t get too much detail. We know she first deployed to Africa, then later overseas during the Gulf War. At one point she helped catch two terrorists linked to an embassy bombing. They don’t say where. But pretty much everything else about her 33 years at the agency is classified. And all the while, the C.I.A. says she remained a big fan of her alma mater’s basketball team: the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Now critics of Haspel are more concerned with what the C.I.A. isn’t saying about her. “America shouldn’t be known for torture.” “She was supportive of the program.” “A cover-up from A to Z.” “A dirty past.” After 9/11. she managed a secret C.I.A. prison in Thailand. And at that prison she oversaw the torture of a detainee. And then, later, she helped execute an order to destroy videotapes of brutal interrogations. Here’s her then-boss explaining why he didn’t want the tapes kept: “It would make the C.I.A. look bad.” And it would actually, in my view, it almost destroyed the clandestine service because of it.” The president decided to focus on ‘good Gina.’ Gina the trailblazer. “Gina, by the way, who I know very well – who I worked very closely with...” will be the first woman director of the C.I.A.” Critics worry that the president’s embrace of torture won’t get any pushback from Haspel. “What do you think about waterboarding, Mr. Trump?” “I said, I love it.” “And I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” “Torture works, O.K., folks.” Haspel recently gave a very rare public appearance on Capitol Hill. Her aim: to woo some of her critics. She smiled and appeared approachable, more public servant than controversial public official.

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The C.I.A. has been on a campaign defending Gina Haspel, President Trump’s pick to head the agency, but critics have highlighted her role in interrogations using torture and the destruction of tapes documenting them.

Ms. Haspel was passed over for a promotion during the Obama administration, as the C.I.A. sought to distance itself from the interrogation program. It was not immediately clear what Mr. Trump meant by highlighting in his tweet that Ms. Haspel is a woman.

The last-minute scramble came ahead of what is expected to be a tough grilling of Ms. Haspel over her role in the C.I.A.’s interrogation program created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, including secret prisons the agency established around the world to interrogate suspects. Ms. Haspel briefly oversaw one of those prisons, in Thailand. The program, which has since been renounced by the C.I.A., included techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinements in boxes and other interrogation techniques.

A 2014 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee declared that the program to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects was deeply flawed and less effective than the C.I.A. let on. It also found that C.I.A. officials regularly misled lawmakers and the White House about the information it obtained and failed to provide basic oversight of secret prisons it established around the world.

The extent of Ms. Haspel’s role in the program is not known; only the report’s executive summary was released, and it obscured the identities of agency operatives. Ms. Haspel’s offer to withdraw was first reported on Sunday by The Washington Post.

Ms. Haspel was embroiled in another dark chapter in the C.I.A.’s interrogation program — one that is likely to resurface during her confirmation hearing. In late 2005, she played a role in a decision to destroy videotapes documenting the interrogation of Qaeda operatives at the Thailand facility. Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the agency’s clandestine service, ordered the destruction of videotapes of the waterboarding sessions. Ms. Haspel, serving as Mr. Rodriguez’s chief of staff, was a strong advocate for getting rid of the tapes, former C.I.A. officers said.

Years later, when the C.I.A. wanted to name Ms. Haspel to run clandestine operations, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who then chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, blocked the promotion over Ms. Haspel’s role in the interrogation program and the destruction of the tapes.

For the White House, Ms. Haspel’s confirmation comes on the heels of a tougher-than-expected confirmation for Mike Pompeo, the former C.I.A. director, as secretary of state. Mr. Pompeo, who is close to Ms. Haspel, ran into headwinds on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where several Democrats announced they would oppose him.

Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, also expressed reservations about Mr. Pompeo, though he eventually relented, and the Senate confirmed him by a vote of 57 to 42.

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